Tuesday, June 21, 2011
For those looking for interesting and affordable summer fun, here's an idea that might pay some tangible dividends. How about taking a hammer and shovel and driving to a nearby site...and hitting pay dirt!
"If digging for gems and striking it rich appeals to you, America is a real treasure trove," says gemologist Antoinette Matlins, author of many leading books on gems and jewelry, including Jewelry & Gems: The Buying Guide (Gemstone Press). "There are still valuable discoveries waiting to be made, and while you may not be lucky enough to hit pay dirt the first time," advises Matlins, "investing a little time this summer in the search itself can yield lots of beautiful, memorable, fun-filled moments, and who knows, maybe even a valuable sparkler or two!"
Matlins loves to spend time gold-panning near her home in Vermont during the summer. She points out that seeking gems takes you to places you might not otherwise ever see, and apart from the fun and fresh air, there's always the allure of that "hidden treasure" that's just waiting for you to find it. "I love spending the day digging and swishing the rocks and mud in my pan, hoping I'll find that huge nugget, this time!" But she laughs, admitting that while she really knows people who have found huge gold nuggets in the creeks of Vermont -- which used to be one of the countries most important gold-producing states -- so far she's found only very tiny flecks that she picks out of the pan with tweezers. Nonetheless, with rising gold prices, maybe she'll spend more time at it this summer. "But even if I don't find gold," she's quick to add, "it's relaxing and I usually find quite a few red garnet crystals with very interesting crystal shapes, and while not valuable, they make nice specimens to show local school kids about "geometry" in nature"!
On a more serious note, Matlins points out there are many places where individuals and families can go to search for diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, tourmalines, garnets, jade and more. She's been to many of these places. "I still remember vividly the trip to Maine with my dad as a young child, searching for tourmalines," Matlins recalls, "and I'll never forget the thrill of finding my first--a beautiful green tourmaline crystal with a pink core; I was hooked!"
Matlins also still has the first piece of jewelry she ever made, at age 10, from a piece of "unakite" (an interesting ornamental pink and green stone now popular in beads) that she found near Sperryville, Virginia. Her father taught her how to cut the stone into an oval cabochon (a stone with a smooth, domed top) and then showed her how to set it into a sterling silver pendant. These childhood experiences were just the first, and ultimately behind what was to become a life-long journey.
For those hoping for more valuable gems, Matlins highly recommends Crater of Diamonds State Park, in Murfreesboro, Arkansas, a diamond-producing site opened to the public in 1972. Crater Park has yielded numerous diamonds, many of significant size. The largest ever found was a 16.37 carat white diamond, followed by one weighing 8.82, and just this year the third largest was found, an 8.66 carat white diamond. In 2010, over 600 carats of diamonds were found by visitors, the largest being over 4 carats, and others over 3 carats; 23 of the diamonds found were over one-carat in size. And so far, 2011 is off to a great start with the discovery of the 8.66 carat diamond.
"North Carolina is another state that offers many opportunities for fun and discovery," Matlins suggests, "with ruby, sapphire and emerald topping the list." Matlins remembers spending time with her family also in North Carolina digging for sapphires and rubies, finding only a few fine specimens but plenty of material to use at the bottom of their fish tank! Other family trips for rocks and minerals took Matlins to Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and New Hampshire, all within driving distance from her childhood home in Washington, DC. Later she would travel not only the USA, but the world, visiting exotic gem-rich lands but nothing replaces her early memories.
If you're feeling tempted, Matlins highly recommends the latest edition of the Treasure Hunter's Gem & Mineral Guides by Kathy Rygle and Stephen Pedersen (also from Gemstone Press). This series includes a complete guide to getting the most out of over 250 free or affordable gem and mineral sites in the USA. The series provides guides to four regions -- Northwest, Southwest, Northeast, and Southeast -- which can be purchased individually or together. Each provides a detailed listing and maps for each site, along with easy-to-use information on the ins and outs of "fee dig" mining, costs, tips on technique, entertaining legends, and important information on everything from safety kits to where the nearest rest room is located. There are also resources on how to identify what you've found, and on polishing stones and making your own jewelry.
So now, what's stopping you? Happy hunting!